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The Isles of Capri Paddlecraft Park is the only public access facility in Collier County that has been designed exclusively for launching non-motorized vessels such as canoes, kayaks and paddleboards year-round.

The park has a freshwater rinse station, two covered picnic pavilions, restroom facilities, parking, and handicap access. The hours are from sunrise to sunset, and the cost is $4 to launch. Only non-motorized paddle crafts are permitted.

A park management agreement in place under Collier County parks and recreation makes the park sustainable and accessible by both private citizens and eco-tour guides.

The park provides public access to McIlvane Bay and other bays among the mangroves where there are ample opportunities for wildlife viewing and exploring quiet backwaters in a relatively unexplored part of the Reserve. For those who enjoy longer rides, access to the Gulf by way of Johnson’s Bay also can be part of the day’s activities.

Long time coming

Having a safe and inexpensive launching access for exploration and fun on the pristine waterways in Southwest Florida was a long time coming.

Residents of the Isles of Capri recognized the need for such a launch site when they noticed larger numbers of visitors and residents alike looking for a safe place to put their non-motorized vessels in the water to fish, explore, or just enjoy watching the abundant wildlife that can be seen more clearly when floating quietly along the estuaries.

In 2004, a group of residents from the Isles of Capri formed a committee to pursue this goal. Representatives from Capri and Fiddler’s Creek, County and state government agencies including Donna Fiala, county commission member, and Mark Strain, Collier County planning commissioner, were invited to be on the committee.

The committee worked diligently for the next eight years, researching what they thought to be the ideal site – the corner on the northwest side of State Road 951 (Collier Boulevard) and County Road 952 (Capri Boulevard).

A dream come true was realized on the morning of March 30, 2012, as the long-awaited Isles of Capri Paddle Craft Park was officially opened. About 75 gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony as musician JRobert and son, Martin Houghtaling, provided background music on guitar and harmonica.

The day was perfect with the usual sunny Southwest Florida skies, birds singing, and balmy breezes as a background to the park’s opening activities. Five speakers focused on the hard work, persistence and cooperation that it took to make the dream come true.

This would become the first and only public access facility in Collier County designed exclusively for launching paddlecrafts. Paddlecrafts are any non-motorized water-craft such as kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards.

The speakers, Gary Lytton, director of Rookery Bay Estuarine Research Reserve; Greg Munson, DEP deputy secretary of water policy and environmental restoration; Leo Ochs, Collier County manager; Fiala, and Randy McCormick, Rookery Bay assistant manager and project lead, sounded like a “thank-you fest,” as each pointed out the work of so many.

No condo

The site had once been slated for a high-rise condominium and a 50-slip marina. Thanks to the creative minds involved, it is now preserved as a beautiful natural and healthy eco-system park.

“This was no easy task,” said McCormick. “This land was once used as a dump. There were dead mangroves. It was abandoned by the original contractor, and we were almost out of money.”

After discovering some Florida Forever Funds, coupled with grants from NOAA, McCormick submitted a proposal to Jeff Carter for state funding and was awarded the necessary money to continue the project.

He could not say enough good things about the Engineering firm Wilson Miller and the new contractor, Surety Construction.

“They built it on budget and on time,” said McCormick.

The one thing that really makes this park unique is the collaboration and partnership between the branches of government to build and maintain such an awesome park that will benefit so many and at the same time protect our coastal environment.

The park is not only for summer, but year-round activities.

Contact Ann Hall at ahall7911@coconuttele.net.

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